Tag Archives: Yorkshire

Stylecraft Blogstars Meetup, aka Not Too Shabby A Weekend

It’s much easier to write blog posts when things are going wrong, or when nothing much has happened. Comic anecdotes come more readily when you’ve mistakenly put your husband out for collection with the recycling, or when you’ve spent an insomniac half-night pondering a mysterious chicken-shaped splodge on the bedroom ceiling.

stylecraft mill Slaithwaite Spectrum Yarns Yorkshire

Here’s a clue about where this blog post is going.

Unfortunately,* things have gone catastrophically well this weekend… which was immensely fun to experience, but isn’t very funny to describe. I have lovely yarn/knitting/crochet-related things to show and tell you about, but it’s not going to be very funny. Aware of this problem and feeling desperate, I resorted to going for an extra-long run today, because my biggest idiocy generally happens knee-deep in mud and four miles from home, but even that went uncharacteristically well. I give up!

Warning: this blog post may contain scenery.

Anyway, to the point.

On Friday, I zoomed up to West Yorkshire at the wheel of the Blunderbus (replacement for the Stinkwagon) to join in with the second meet-up of the Stylecraft Blogstars at and around the Stylecraft mill in Slaithwaite.

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The Stylecraft mill is the one behind the chimney in the distance on the right.

Shall we do the introductions first? It’s a cliché to say so (and I write that as someone who likes to take clichés out the back and beat them mercilessly) but these folk really don’t need a whole load of introduction. Let’s introduce them anyway.

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From the left: Jane Crowfoot, me, Sarah at Annaboo’s House, Heather at The Patchwork Heart, Julia at Hand Knitted Things, Lucy at Attic24, Helen at The Woolly Adventures Of A Knitting Kitty, Emma Varnam, Sandra at Cherry Heart, Lucia at Lucia’s Fig Tree, and Kathryn at Crafternoon Treats. (Sadly, Sue Pinner wasn’t there this time.)

Living on the opposite side of the planet was NOT considered an adequate excuse for non-attendance. It’s tough being a Blogstar: you have to do stuff way past midnight.

And joining us via Skype at heaven-knows-what time of the night or day, was Angela at Get Knotted Yarn Craft (pictured on the laptop above), and Zelna at Zooty Owl. Phew, what a line-up!

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So we met, and we shared ideas, news, over-enthusiasm, wine, a hotel, gossip, yarn, workshops, food, and a trip out to the Knitting And Crochet Guild historical archive. (More on the Knitting And Crochet Guild in a separate post, because it was fascinating.)

Naturally, we insisted on a hotel with its own helipad. One has standards, y’know.

This was a gathering where nobody batted an eyelid if you pulled out your knitting during dinner or crocheted throughout a meeting, or if you talked about yarn for an hour without even pausing for breath, or if you were observed arriving at the hotel with luggage comprising only one toothbrush and 85 knits/hooks-in-progress. Obviously, we knitted/hooked throughout pre-dinner drinks:-

Someone kindly took a photo before the yarn came out at dinner:-

These are my kinda people, and they’re probably yours, too.

It would be fair to say that we were treated rather well.

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What? For ME? Oh I couldn’t possibly! … Actually, maybe I could, if you really insisted…

We began with an update on what’s coming soon from Stylecraft. I’m sorry, but this really is a if-I-tell-you,-I’ll-have-to-kill-you situation, until the new batches of yarns are officially released. More news to come very, very, soon.

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Saturday was a day filled with marvellous things at the mill, including a workshop on Tunisian crochet:-

Busy. Concentrating.

It’s quite fun, once you get the hang of the strange knit-cum-crochet rhythm:-

At least they gave me exactly the right mug for my green tea:-

We admired each other’s work. Look at ThePatchworkHeart’s blankets!

And Lucia’s Fig Tree’s blanket!

(Maybe I should have brought my chair.)

It was all wonderful, inspiring, invigorating, and exciting, and I’m probably not alone in having come away with a whole hairy heap of ideas.

View from the window.

My only gripe was that it was all over far, far too soon.

Still, there was still a little time before sunset to run around the town getting shots of the magnificent viaduct that cuts across the town:-

And see?

And see?

And as the sun threatened with some sincerity (I REALLY MEAN IT THIS TIME!) to sink below the horizon, I grabbed a last few images of the countryside around Slaithwaite:-

All in all, a pretty good weekend.

 

*OK, I’m not really ungrateful.

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Stylecraft Batik Yarn Review

It’s about time I published a review of Batik, Stylecraft’s brand new yarn. (Disclaimer: I didn’t pay for the yarn, so clearly my fickle head has been turned by this freebie and not a single word of the following is to be trusted.)

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I wanted to thoroughly road-test the yarn before I wrote this, so I got the knitting needles out and started designing something that incorporated all sixteen shades:-

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You know what you need in the heat of August? A nice warm, fluffy cowl, that’s what. So I designed one, just in case the sun disappeared behind a cloud and it started to SNOW. Stranger things have happened. The cowl pattern will be available very soon, in case you want one too.

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We were away for ten days, you see, first staying in a cottage in the wilds of the North York Moors, and then – after a seven-hour drive – staying with dear friends in their beautiful old south west Wales cottage. The perfect opportunity to knit without guilt. The perfect opportunity to let my imagination off the lead, so that it could scamper about in the undergrowth and come up with lots of nature-inspired patterns.

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I knitted everywhere.

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And then I re-knitted, over and over again, because I kept changing my mind about the pattern. But that was part of the fun.

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Anyway, let’s talk about the yarn.

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Batik is a DK-weight (i.e. light worsted) blend of 80% acrylic and 20% wool. Just to cover the basics, it’s available in 50-gram balls, with a recommended hook/needle size of 4mm (US size 6), gauge 22 sts per 10cm/4 inches. But that’s not what you came here to read, is it?

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There are 16 shades in the range, and they do work rather well together.

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The yarn has a painted effect, each shade mottling with white. I think this makes it ideal for fairisle/stranded colourwork – much better than solid colours – but the mottling effect is not subtle, so I needed to make sure that for each section of the pattern, I picked two shades that really really contrasted, to avoid the pattern looking like a blurry muddle.

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There’s a high degree of twist to this yarn, which was a deliberate decision by the folk at Stylecraft HQ to create a product that’s ideal for crochet as well as for knitting.

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And I have to say that it’s a pleasure to work with, although I do hope they expand the colour range further. If you want a very affordable (£1.99 in the UK) acrylic-based yarn, I absolutely recommend Batik. It looks good, the colours are rich and intense, and Stylecraft are super-hot on the consistency and quality of their products (I saw their testing lab) so you can trust what you’re getting.

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Right, I’d better go and write up that cowl pattern, hadn’t I? Is it snowing yet?

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Blogstars

Last weekend I was in West Yorkshire at the invitation of Stylecraft. The occasion was the inaugural meeting of their ‘Blogstars‘ programme, in which a dozen of us yarny bloggers/designers get the chance to work closely with Stylecraft and hear whispers about new yarns that are on their way. (Clue: there are some very interesting and unexpected developments afoot.)

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They kindly asked me to take part. ‘Would you like to come up to the picturesque valleys of West Yorkshire, tour our old woollen mill, stay in a luxurious hotel with fabulous food/wine, talk yarn with fellow designer-bloggers, and attend a meeting that’s all about yarn and at which you’re allowed, nay encouraged to knit throughout, at the end of which we’ll give you a giant sack of Stylecraft and KnitPro freebies?’

“Hmm,” I said, frowning. “I’ll need to take some time to think about that.”

Approximately one fortieth of a nanosecond later, I squealed “YES PLEASE!”

So I set off in the grimy ol’ Stinkwagon, its ancient axels grumbling under the weight of enough knits-in-progress to keep me going if I accidentally got stranded in Yorkshire for three months… even though I was heading for a woollen mill which could reasonably be expected to supply some knitting materials if Armageddon happened and we had a lock-in. The journey was slow. I suspect that knitters and crocheters are the only people who like traffic jams (proper ones where you have to completely stop and you may as well turn off your engine for the next half hour), but sadly there were no traffic jams, so I didn’t get to knit en route.

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Four hours later, I was in Slaithwaite. The first treat was the mill tour that I described in my last post, and then there was a muchly fun evening with some of my fellow Blogstars and a couple of Stylecraft folk at the hotel. When I came down to the bar and saw one of the group knitting, I knew that I’d found my people. See these folk? They’re all thoroughly lovely (except me):-

Left to right: Heather from The Patchwork Heart blog, Helen from The Knitting Exploits Of Josie Kitten, Sarah from Annaboo's House, me, Annabelle (Stylecraft), and - knitting! - Juliet (Blue Bear / Stylecraft).

Left to right: Heather from The Patchwork Heart, Helen from The Knitting Exploits Of Josie Kitten, Sarah from Annaboo’s House, me, Annabelle (Stylecraft), and – knitting! – Juliet (Blue Bear / Stylecraft)

The views from the hotel weren’t too shabby. I took this shot from the hotel’s helipad: fortunately I managed not to get squished by any incoming helicopters.

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The views were charming, especially as the day faded…

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…to near-darkness:-

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Anyway, back to the yarn. The main event was scheduled for the following day, back at the Stylecraft mill in Slaithwaite. This was where we got to meet up not just with folk from the previous night, but also with the rest of the Blogstars (excluding a couple of people who couldn’t make it this time). Here we are:-

Here we are. Image courtesy of Sophie at Stylecraft (a fellow RUNNER-AND-KNITTER! I LIKE this woman. :-) ) Left to right, back row: Sandra (Cherry Heart), Julia Marsh (Hand Knitted Things), Helen (The Knitting Exploits of Josie Kitten), Sarah (Annaboo's House). Front row, left to right: Kathryn (Crafternoon Treats), Heather (The Patchwork Heart), me, Lucy (Attic 24), Sue (Shropshire Scrappers).

Image courtesy of Sophie at Stylecraft (a fellow RUNNER-AND-KNITTER! I LIKE this woman. 🙂 ) Back row, left to right: Sandra (Cherry Heart), Julia (Hand Knitted Things), Helen (The Knitting Exploits of Josie Kitten), Sarah (Annaboo’s House). Front row, left to right: Kathryn (Crafternoon Treats), Heather (The Patchwork Heart), me, Lucy (Attic 24), Sue (Shropshire Scrappers).

I’d met Lucy (Attic 24) before when we co-judged the Stylecraft yarn competition at the mill last year, but I’d never met the other bloggers, so it was fabulous to chat to fellow people who like to do stuff with yarn and then talk about it online. There was frustratingly little time, though, so I hardly got to speak to some of them at all.

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Another shot of the view from the hotel.

So we got down to the heady business of yarn. There really are some very exciting developments coming soon from this ‘ere mill, so I’ll devote a whole post to telling you about them next time. Trust me, you’ll like them. 🙂

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To The Mill!

Evenin’. We all here? Good, good. Do have a seat… NO, NOT THAT ONE! Sorry, didn’t mean to shout, but that’s the chair the twinnage have booby-trapped. What’s that you say? Oh, um, trust me, you don’t want to know, but… you’re not scared of worms, I hope?

Help yourself to some wine. You’ve brought yarn? Ha, silly question: of course you’ve brought yarn.

Speaking of yarn, would you like to see round an old woollen mill? It’s just that a few of us knit/crochet bloggers* were invited to Yorkshire at the weekend by the fine fibrous folk at Stylecraft for the inaugural meeting of the Blogstars programme. (More on that over the next few posts, including a giveaway, and some rather exciting insider gossip about future yarny developments…) So I loaded up the ol’ Stinkwagon with knitting paraphernalia, a toothbrush, and a change of socks, and headed up to Slaithwaite. Look!

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The first thing we did on arrival was tour the mill with Richard Brown, owner of Spectrum Yarns (which produces Stylecraft, Yarn Stories, and some luxury merino clothing treats). Want to see? The mill is oldish – 1907. Spinning skills in this area run deep amongst local families, so it’s no accident that Spectrum’s spinning happens here, whereas its knitting operations are over in Derbyshire. (Their acrylic is made under licence in Turkey, just in case you were wondering.)

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Considerably more than fifty shades of grey.

If you’ve ever knitted with Yarn Stories yarn (as I have), it was spun here.

See this stuff in the picture below? It’s ‘tops’ – undyed, untwisted, sheep fluff. Yes it does feel as nice as it looks.

Mmmmmmmm......

Mmmmmmmm……

The yarns produced here are worsted-spun, i.e. comprising tightly twisted, neatly parallel, same-length fibres, producing a smooth, dense, hard-wearing yarn. (Stop me if you know this already, but the alternative is woollen-spun, in which fibres are all over the place prior to spinning – making a fluffier, wilder, warmer, but less hard-wearing product.) I remember reading all about the two processes in this book, but it was interesting to see worsted spinning in action.

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So yeah. The machines here can combine up to ten feeds of tops, mixing light with dark shades as required. By the way, some of the tops is sent off for dyeing as soon as it arrives, and the rest is dyed as yarn.

Richard Brown explains.

Richard Brown explains.

Next, the spinning frame draws the fibre out to its correct width, and applies twist. So by this stage we’re dealing with something resembling yarn, rather than just a hairy bucket o’fluff. Progress!

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The exact width and quality of the product is monitored electronically. Also, there’s a whole lab dedicated to micro-assessing of the quality of yarn.

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They take their work seriously in the lab:-

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If I had a job there, I’d demand to see a lot of yarn samples:-

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Or I might just sit and drool at the display on their wall:-

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Anyway, back to the shop floor. After spinning, the yarn is twisty – a little too twisty, to be frank. If you hold up a length of yarn, it fights you to ravel itself into a spirally knot. So the next stage of the process is to pop it in a steam oven to persuade it to calm the heck down.

The steam oven.

The steam oven.

The result is a lot calmer and more biddable.

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I could look at this yarn all day.

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On one floor of the mill are boxes (and boxes) of yarn, ready for dispatch. I tried to linger behind the group as they left, hoping to get locked in with more yarn than I could conceivably knit in a lifetime, but unfortunately somebody noticed.

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Oh, and d’you see that lovely wooden floor there? Richard had a tale to tell about that. The six-floor building was originally constructed as a cotton mill. Cotton dust (‘fly’) is a notorious risk for explosion, so in order to prevent any irritating infernos and loss of life, the floors were made of beautiful solid maple, which carried a low risk of sparking.

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Meanwhile workers at the time wore iron-soled clogs, and over the decades, their footsteps wore two deep dips in the sandstone staircase:-

Look, d'you see how those steps have worn?

Look, d’you see how those steps have worn?

So that, my friend, is the basics of the process. More soon on the Blogstars programme, and a giveaway!

 

∗ Lucy from Attic24, Julia from Hand Knitted Things, Sandra from Cherry Heart, Sue at Susan Pinner, Kathryn from Crafternoon Treats, Sarah from Annaboo’s House, Helen from The Woolly Adventures Of A Knitting Kitty, Heather from The Patchwork Heart… and present in spirit if not in person, Jane Crowfoot, Angela from Get Knotted, and Emma Varnam.

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The Skirt Post

Ah, the skirt. (And thank you to the kind people in the comments threads who’ve been asking about it.) This post could probably be retitled ‘How not to design a skirt, you fool!’ but it will at least give you a laugh or two, I hope.

For those of you who are new around these ‘ere parts, allow me to elaborate. I decided on a whim to design a knitted stranded skirt and a crocheted bag, ahead of judging the Stylecraft competition. It seemed like a good idea. And whilst the bag was done in plenty of time, I ended up restarting the skirt at the eleventh-and-a-halfth hour, owing to my first attempt turning into a messy ol’ cacophany of colour and stripey chaos:-

Nope. Just wrong.

You see, this is what goes wrong when you try and design a skirt whilst simultaneously playing with toddlers. COLOUR/MOTIF ANARCHY!  Consider yerselves warned. This is a public service announcement by The Twisted Yarn.

I decided to aim for something a bit more serious and muted, second time around. I liked that pattern in the middle that I’d designed, so I modified it only slightly for attempt number two. You can see the design as I drew it out on paper in the picture below. (For once, I broke my cardinal rule about using knitter’s graph paper, but I wasn’t too fussed about the relative height and width of this motif, so it didn’t matter.)

This skirt is quite short

This skirt is quite short

Anyway, here’s what I did. This is more of a description of a process, than a pattern. I hope that’s OK for now?

The yarn is Rowan Felted Tweed DK, which is a fabulous yarn other than for the fact that it breaks if you as much as look at it. Oh all right, I’m exaggerating. You can look at it, but if you frown in its direction then *SNAP!* it breaks. Dear Rowan, I love your yarns, I really really really do, but please make less breaky Felted Tweed DK, yeah? Ta muchly.

All The Yarn.

All The Yarn.

Anyway, where was I?

This skirt was worked in the round from the bottom up. I cast on 203 stitches on 3mm circulars. Then I worked 10 rows of garter stitch, because you don’t want the bottom of your skirt rolling up, do you? Next, I knitted 6 rows of plain stockinette before beginning the motif I’d designed. This design is 29 stitches wide, so I repeated it 7 times to make up my 203 stitches. See, there’s method in my apparently-arbitrary-stitch-count.

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After another 11-or-so rows of plain grey-green, I began a second band of the motif. I say ‘or-so’, because the skirt is currently sitting in the Toddler Twinnage’s bedroom and they’re asleep. And whilst I love you very much, I don’t quite love you enough to risk waking the TT in order to give you an exact row count. Sorry.

Anyway, I finished the second band of colour and worked upwards in stockinette at high speed, as the clock cruelly ticked its way towards Yorkshire Day. The stress! As I worked, I reflected on all the uneaten toddler dinners I’d consumed recently which have had an enormously widening effect on my girth, so I started adding in a few KFBs, slowly increasing the stitch count per round from 203 up to a maximum of 225 at round 139. Obviously this is a highly individual thing, and if you’ve consumed less of your children’s discarded food than I have, then adjust accordingly, you lucky woman. I started decreasing again by one stitch per round from round 140, though, because I didn’t want acres of fabric around my waist. BUT THIS ISN’T MUCH OF AN ANECDOTE, IS IT?!

fairisle knitted skirt by TheTwistedYarn in progress

By the time I set of for Yorkshire last Monday afternoon, the skirt was so far from completion that any attempt to wear it would’ve resulted in my arrest not by the knitting police, but by the real police. I did give the thing a wash before I left, though, and blocked my progress-so-far on the back seat of my car whilst I drove. Resourceful, no?

Sadly, it wasn’t possible to knit and drive. And sadly, I didn’t get caught in any five-hour tailbacks, so there was no more knitting until I reached my hotel room for the night before the judging. The hotel was perfect. Here was the view from my window:-

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But there was no time for views, dammit! There was knitting to be done!

Man, my fingers flew. I have never knitted so fast. I paused only to go downstairs and have dinner with the lovely Annabelle Hill (sales director for Stylecraft) and equally lovely Sarah Neal (editor of Let’s Knit magazine). I felt so shy walking down the stairs towards the restaurant but honestly, they were both friendly and interesting and I needn’t have worried. The food wasn’t bad, either. 🙂

And then it was back to the knitting, up in my room. Round and round and round and round. No, don’t fall asleep: have some more caffeine. Sit up straighter, try to stay awake. Just. Keep. Knitting. It reminded me of undergraduate days, desperately trying to stay awake for most of the night in an attempt to get the weekly essay finished. Oh, those nights: trying to figure out some statistical complexity whilst half mad on caffeine at 5am.

Morning came too soon.

By breakfast time, I had a nearly-decent length, but I needed a waist-band, so I switched to purple and garter-stitched as though my life depended on it. Time was ticking, as the bastard is wont to do.

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I knitted over breakfast at the hotel, and as luck would have it, I bumped into Sarah Neal. My advice to you? ALWAYS have the editor of a major knitting magazine around whilst you break your fast, in order to tap her wisdom as you knit and munch. Her advice? HAIRSPRAY. Yes, you read that right. I’d been moaning about how one of my many uncompleted tasks was weaving in the ends of this colour-splurge, so she suggested hairspray. For the first time in my life, I was grateful that I have hair that has much in common with an undiscovered jungle, because that means that I never travel without industrial-strength hairspray.

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So instead of the responsible knitterly weave-in-and-snip, I hacked:-

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…And then I sprayed:-

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And then back to the knitting. I added the occasional yarnover and k2tog, in order to make holes for a little belt I’d worked half way through the night. May I just formally record here the patience of Let’s Knit‘s Sarah Neal, who waited (and knitted) patiently whilst I worked the last couple of rows at the hotel before we set off for Stylecraft. (She was working on a jumper with gorgeous fan-like stitches. It was beautiful, and she claimed that it was simple.)

So then it was done, sort of. I do want to make the waistband much wider, but I didn’t have time that morning, so here’s how far I got:-

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It’s a little worrying, wearing a skirt that’s basically held together with hairspray, let me tell you. Would it make an audible ‘crunch’ when I sat down? Would it burst into flames if I walked past a smoker? Fortunately it did neither of these things, but I’ve learned an important lesson in life: ALWAYS HAVE THE EDITOR OF A KNITTING MAGAZINE ON TAP AT BREAKFAST.

To my shame, I wiggled out of jeans and into this skirt in the car park of Stylecraft’s mill at Slaithwaite, so I can only hope that nobody was looking out of their office window that morning.

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Here’s the reverse, because you always have to show the back when you’re knitting stranded, don’t you?

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And the weirdest thing (that you probably won’t understand)? I didn’t knit a single stitch for about four days after I came home.

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Hello West Yorkshire!

Another quick one. I’ve just arrived in Holmfirth in West Yorkshire, ahead of tomorrow’s judging for the Stylecraft competition at their mill in Slaithwaite. If you entered, very good luck! I can’t wait to see all the colours that you’ve sent in (although I’m a teeny tiny bit nervous about the objects that might have been sent in!!) I know that they’ve received loads of entries, so it’ll be quite a (happy, colourful) task. Here’s the view from my hotel room: rubbish photo on iPad camera because I haven’t brought my little gadget for downloading photos from my proper camera.

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I wish I could put my boots on and go walking, but there’s knitting to be done as I’m still working on that ****ing, ****ing, ********************ing skirt. The main skirt will probably be done in time, but I won’t manage the fairisle braces unless I stay up all night. Again, apologies for rubbish iPad photo:-

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The drive up here was long but sunny, and as soon as I’d got past Sheffield, the hills started rolling and I was surrounded by sheep-dotted fields edged by dry-stone walls and looming conifers, with lush green grass and hints of blackish peat beneath. Heaven. 🙂 The day has been cool but sunny and absolutely still, so windless that none of the wind turbines were moving and the air was hazy and distant hills bluish.

Now I’m sitting in my hotel room knitting and trying to identify a strange birdsong that I can hear. It’s sort of a long and enthusiastic warbling that starts low and reaches a shrieking crescendo. Someone in the avian world is, I think, flirting furiously, but who on earth can it be?

I’d better get back to the knitting.

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